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Flushing festival honors heroes in rainy march

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The rain was pattering steadily onto the skylights of Flushing Mall Sunday night, but the prospect of stepping into the wet streets did not deter the crowd of well-tailored businessmen and Korean musicians clad in pom-pom hats from showing their support for a nation in crisis.

They were assembled for what was to have been a joyous parade celebrating community unity, but the First International Moon Festival assumed a more profound meaning when the World Trade Center came crashing down Sept. 11.

“Rain cannot stop us, so we just go,” said Fred Fu, the president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, one of the event’s primary organizers.

The sun had already set an hour before, and the unseasonably chilly wind cutting through the early autumn air made the pellets of rain even colder to the flesh. But the 100 marchers were undaunted in their mission to traverse Main Street to reach a vigil at the Queens Botanical Gardens, where a group of firefighters waited to be honored for their service to the nation.

They drew stares from shoppers and store employees who gawked from their entrances at the motley crowd of marchers, some clad in traditional clothing, others simply struggling to hang onto an umbrella and avoid puddles while grasping the hands of their children. Musicians from the Korean Traditional Music School led the charge with the loud thumping of their drums, clearing a path for the men and women waving dragon lanterns in a serious yet enthusiastic procession.

The lunar festival always occurs on the night of the “biggest full moon in the whole year,” Fu said, and traditionally serves as an occasion for families in China and Korea to get together with food and celebration.

Although the moon was obscured the evening of the unity march, its importance to the occasion was overshadowed by the participants’ determination to surmount obstacles — even easily conquered ones like inclement weather.

“It shows unity among residents of the area,” said Don Henton of the James A. Bland Residents’ Association, which also sponsored the event. “It makes you feel good that we can get out here and do this together.”

Fu originally organized the festival to celebrate the common dream that brought immigrants to the United States, and state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) saw plentiful evidence of such a united spirit as the marchers prepare to set out from the mall.

“At Ground Zero, like here in Flushing, there was no black or brown or yellow or white or male or female,” McLaughlin said. “It was everyone joining together.”

For the men and women who braved the weather, their attendance was simply a question of loyalty and duty.

“We have to do something when the community needs us,” said Diana Wong of Flushing, who drove a classic Mercedes alongside the procession, while her husband navigated his 1931 Model-A Ford. “It doesn’t matter if it’s rain or snow, we have to be here.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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